Reader to Reader: Ch-ch-changes

Can you, and should you, change your running style? Here's what you thought


Posted: 25 March 2007
by Jane Hoskyn


This week's questioner was advised by a friend and a coach to alter her running style. But can your running style really be changed – and should you try?

"Running with a friend the other day, he pointed out that I should alter my running style; try to cultivate that nice mid-foot striking thing. (Coach has said so too.) But I've also heard that you shouldn't change whatever feels natural – and it's hard to maintain a new style. Anyone successfully altered theirs?"Lyra

Your best answers

  • Change will help, but do it slowly
    I used to be a heel striker but changed to running on my forefoot, and I swear blind it makes me quicker. During the switchover I had sore calf muscles, but once I got used it I was fine. The trick is to take the change over very gradually or you will injure yourself. I gradually increased the miles on my toes and gradually decreased the "heel" miles; whole process took about 10 weeks. The morning walk down the stairs took longer than normal, but it felt great running at my new race pace. – David Stamp
  • Don't sweat it, but tweaks may help your performance
    If you're not injured, think about what suits you. None of us is perfect. That said, I have been following some of the techniques in Danny Dreyers' ChiRunning, and they work. By having better "form" you have to fight your body less and you flow better, getting more out of less mileage. – Neil Osborne
  • Technique matters – it's like learning to drive
    I've spent nearly a year with ChiRunning and I'm beginning to feel I'm getting there. But I'm someone who took years to learn to drive, so I'm probably not typical. Driving is relevant, because it's a matter of awareness and co-ordination, and so is changing your running style. For all sorts of reasons I'm glad I've made the effort. If you don't like the particular emphases of Pose or Chi, have a look at books like Master the Art of Running by Malcolm Balk and Triathlon Training Running by Ken Mierke. Malcolm Balk is an Alexander Technique teacher, so he tries to maximise the benefit for the whole body and the whole of life, while fairly obviously the Triathlon book focuses on getting most speed from least energy. – More Haste, Less Speed
  • Another vote for ChiRunning
    I used to heel strike and was very injury prone. Last year I started working on changing to a midfoot strike using the ChiRunning book. I'm now far less prone to injuries, and I'm running in lighter shoes with less support. My running seems to flow better, and I'm working with my body rather than against it. It's still a work in progress, but the way the book is written allows you to change gradually. – Mister W
  • Tweaking your style is hard but worth it
    I have a terrible running style. Hubby can always pick me out of a crowd because my knees knock together and my feet swing out sideways with every step. This puts a lot of pressure on my ankles, which are pretty weedy anyway. One of the things that helps me to improve slightly is to concentrate on the stronger bits of my legs – be conscious of the movement of my thighs pushing my legs forward. This seems to make me faster and relieves the pressure on my ankles. Anyway, concentrate on the good areas and build up the weak areas so that your gait has a chance to sort itself out naturally. – LauraF
  • Get some expert input, and prepare for a long slog
    Having gone through a really annoying phase of shin splints, I got some physio input and they gradually re-engineered my running style. It was a ground-up (well, hip-down) re-think about each muscle group and its role in the cycle of movement. A lot of subtle tweaks were made over three months, pretty much working on it every day.It was every bit as dull as it sounds. Result, though? Injury evaporated (primary objective achieved) but also my footfalls are very quiet now. Less noise means not only less shock to the tissue of the lower legs, but also less energy used for a given distance. Less energy used means more in the tank and thus more speed. I am definitely quicker now for a given amount of perceived effort. However it depends on your personal situation. Get some serious biomechanical expert to look at your style before embarking on a change regime; you might be fine already!

    Further word of warning: if you are trained to a reasonable level you will find it incredibly frustrating bringing your speed and distance down to beginner level when you get started on the new style. If you go for your usual distance/speed using a newly modified gait, you're practically guaranteed to hurt something! Gently does it. – LeeBee

  • Study runners' form on YouTube
    Bear in mind that you'd have to reduce your milage considerably while you make the transition, or you'll almost certainly get injured. It will help if you do some strength training for your calves and ankles, because you will be using muscles in an unfamiliar way. Do a bit of research into running form, and look at the way runners with good form run – this could be one genuine benefit of YouTube! – terryh
  • Find what suits
    What's important is finding a running style that suits you. There are a number of world class heel-strikers. if you land on the balls of your feet, you are most definitely a mid-foot striker. I feel you have been misinformed - if anything, my feet feel more relaxed on running now that I mid-foot strike. If heel-striking feels weird, don't do it. – B (Ewok's Mate)
  • Some things aren't worth it
    I tried switching from midfoot to forefoot just out of curiosity, and the pain in my calves was unbelieveable – I could hardly walk down the stairs! Now I'm back to my old style, inury free and happy. Tread with caution. – Paul Robertson
  • Stick with your natural style
    I was told that your natural running style is natural for a reason. That's not to say that tiny tweaks aren't possible, and your natural running style may alter over time – for example your stride may get longer. But unless you're categorically doing something that's "wrong" and/or going to cause you an injury, I think best just to stick with what you've got. Take a look at any runners in races - there are all sorts of weird and wonderful gaits, and don't even get me started on shapes and sizes! – WelshCath
  • Beware of foot-fall fads
    Don't just change your running style because it's the latest "in-thing" or fad, or even a suggestion from a mate. If you enjoy the way you run and you're fairly niggle free – if you complete training sessions feeling mentally better then when you started, and you're physically "pleasantly fatigued" (as opposed to quite sore) – don't change. – nrg-b
  • Invest in good cushioning
    I run on my toes naturally. It does help me to avoid some injuries, but it makes me extremely susceptible to tight calves and stress fractures of the metatarsals. The natural method of shock absorbtion happens during the heel strike phase, which obviously you don't benefit from as a forefoot striker. I find the most important thing to look for when I buy trainers is the level of forefoot cushioning in the shoe. I like the feeling of leaning forwards whilst running – it feels more natural to me to fall into the next stride. It has pros and cons like all things, I guess. – RIBS
  • The right shoes are key
    When you're running long and hard, for example in a marathon, you'll forget all about how you're running and revert to your normal style. My husband reckons I run like a lizard: my one foot swings around a little as well and there's nothing I can do to stop it, as it feels so natural. I'm also a flat-footed mild supinator. But it doesn't matter, because I wear the right shoes and, despite training hard for my 3rd marathon, I rarely get injured and am hitting a few PBs every month. So as long as you're not injured and wearing the correct footwear, relax and enjoy. – Little lizard
  • Appearances can be deceptive
    I have a friend with a very strange running style, which makes her look slow... and she's not. I guess there may be a point beyond which these things can't be unlearned. – kittenkat
  • No injury? No problem
    Your coach should know better, unless he or she has spotted a specific problem causing an injury. In general there's nothing wrong with a forefoot strike. – Swerve


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Discuss this article

Running with a friend the other day he pointed out that I should perhaps alter my running style; try to cultivate that nice midfoot striking thing. (Coach tells me off for my toe striking too.)

However, I'm sure I recall people saying not to worry too much about changing whatever feels natural. And, it's all very well to try to alter one's style, but is kind of hard to maintain.

Anyone successfully altered theirs?
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 16:33

I agree - the same thoughts crossed my mind but I was told that your natural running style was natural for a reason :-) That's not to say that tiny tweaks aren't possible and over time your natural running style may alter - e.g. your stride length may get a bit longer. But unless you're categorically doing something that's "wrong" and/or going to cause you an injury, I think best just to stick with what you've got. Take a look at any runners in races - there are all sorts of weird and wonderful gaits (and don't even get me started on shapes and sizes)!
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 16:59

Your coach should know better, unless he/she has spotted a specific problem causing an injury.

Nothing wrong with a forefoot strike. In general, anyway.
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:13

<Huge wanders off to gather thoughts>
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:15

Chases lyra with big pin to see if it changes her running style
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:25

the Pose peeps will be along shortly:-)))

I have found it very easy to teach myself to run differently -






















slower:-))
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:26

Hello SB

haven't seen you around recently.

Still training and racing on liquid, alcoholic intakes?:-)))
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:28

lol yes i am actually, i am still here, on all the race threads i'm doing, Lochaber, Edinburgh and Loch Ness maras and a few other random ones.. ;o)
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:32

ooooohhhh m*rathons - long way for my old bones:-))

After FLM this year I think I shall consign them to history.

Hope yours go well - kep up the liquid training - you do very well on it:-))
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:37

lol i am too :) we all say we will only do one mara...... i've done 3 now
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:41

I've spent nearly a year with ChiRunning and I'm beginning to feel as if I'm getting there. But I'm someone who took years to learn to drive so I'm probably not typical. Driving is relevant because it's a matter of awareness and coordination as is changing running style. For all sorts of reasons I'm glad I've made the effort.
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:48

i just run like i did like a lad just a bit slower but need to ask(been scared before) chi pose WTF?
explain slowly and loudly as if speaking to a forgien person
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:50

TT

I thought you came from that foreign land where men were men and sheep were afraid:-))
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:52

theres a whole book about it, i dont think it can be explained in a few lines!
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:52

WHOLE BOOK on how to run!

It better take at least 10 minutes off my PB for that like TI does for swim!

I will look this up. I may be some time or in shock
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:53

Chi and Pose are different processes but with an underlying philosophy that great benefits can be obtained in running, and reduction in injury, through adopting a style of running that emphasises the position of the foot and leg in a "neutral" state.

Body weight is smoothly transferred from one foot to another through concentrating on a mid foot strike with little toe off or backlift (and certainly no heel strike!!) making it, it is claimed, a more efficient running style.

there are long standing threads on the Forum on both.
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 18:01

hmmmmm i tend not to heel strike anyway so........i may be running a style like it anyway?
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 18:03

whisper it quietly - but I mid foot strike naturally anyway - so I find it difficult to disagree with the concept.

It just the zeal of converts to all aspects of it, thin soled shoes et al, that worries me a bit. Some peeps are not as bio mechanically conditioned or suited to running as others and whether they can all convert successfully I do not know
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 18:15

This may take some time!
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 18:15

<Huge wanders off again to seek nirvana re running styles>
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 18:57

Hmmm, thanks all, this thread's given me lots to think about. Mostly needing some research...

<follows Huge>
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 22:57

Welcome, my child, to my spiritual haven.

















Just off to bed L, laters x
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 23:01

TT

you finished yet:-))))))
Posted: 16/03/2007 at 11:00

Well TT?
Posted: 16/03/2007 at 20:42

Ace question, Lyra. So I've nicked it for this week's Reader to Reader article.

I couldn't say how much style/technique can influence running performance, though I suspect it's pretty important. With swimming, technique is all. As a kid I swam competitively, and I was pretty fast even though I'm midgety and not very strong. The speed was all to do with how I held my body in the water.

By contrast I've never been trained to run - I just do it for the hell of it and to keep myself from getting too porky - so I've got no idea what my running style is, whether it's any good or whether I could change it. I imagine it's pretty rubbish, because I'm a slow runner - and I *know* my shoulders are cr@p.

Would be interested to hear responses from coaches and competitive types.

Posted: 17/03/2007 at 14:37

Wow Jane! I am thrilled :-)

Having not always been that great at avoiding injury, I'm just really keen see if altering my style helps me to avoid further injury. Hopefully, it will then allow my running to progress and improve - something it never gets to do if you're injured for months at a time!

When I've more time, I'll be giving cycling and swimming a go too. Can't imagine I'll be as good in the water as you though - I was useless at school!

Cheers for that and can't wait to read the responses.
Posted: 17/03/2007 at 14:50

Lyra that's a really good point - I hadn't even thought about it from an injury perspective, just as a way of improving performance.

Those of us who suffer from dodgy ankles could learn a thing or two from this thread! Come on all you physios, tell us what you think...
Posted: 17/03/2007 at 15:25

If you don't like the particular emphases of Pose or Chi, there's also "Master the Art of Running" by Malcolm Balk and "triathlon training running" by Ken Mierke. Malcolm Balk is an Alexander Teacher so tries to maximise benefit for the whole body and the whole of life, while fairly obviously the Triathlon book focuses on getting most speed from least energy, as triathletes have almost given their all when they start running.
Posted: 17/03/2007 at 17:13

I have a terrible running style - hubby can always pick me out of a crowd cos my knees knock together and my feet swing out sideways with every step. This puts a lot of pressure on my ankles, which are pretty weedy anyway.

One of the things that helps me to improve slightly is to concentrate on the stronger bits of my legs - ie be conscious of the movement of my thighs pushing my legs forward. This seems to make me faster and relieves the pressur on my ankles.

I try and remember to do strengthening exercises for my ankles, knees hips etc (there were some pretty good ones in RW a month or so ago). The theory is that strengthening the weak bits will straighten up the gait.... but maybe I'm kidding myself.

Enough rambling - concentrate on the good areas and build up the weak areas - the your gait has a chance to sort itself out naturally.
Posted: 17/03/2007 at 18:19

I run on my toes naturally & whilst it does help me to avoid some injuries, it does make me extremely susceptible to tight calves & stress fractures of the metatarsals - the natural method of shock absorbtion happens during the heel strike phase which obviously you don't benefit from as a forefoot striker. With regard to the latter I find the most important thing to look for when I buy trainers, is the level of forefoot cushioning in the shoe. I like the feeling of leaning forwards whilst running - seems more natural to me to fall into the next stride rather than heel strike which effectively breaks the natural forward motion...but I'm bias :) Pros & cons like all things I guess.
Posted: 18/03/2007 at 12:14

I think as long as you're running injury-free, there's no real worry. And also, I reckon that when you're running long and hard, eg marathon, you'll forget all about what you're trying to run like, and revert to your normal type. And didn't Nike do an advertising campaign about the way you run and manufacturing the trainers to help you do it rather than trying to change?

I've got the funniest little run ever, hubby reckons I run like a lizard! My one foot swings around a little as well and there's nothing I can do to stop it, as it feels so natural! To top it all I'm a flat footed mild supinator as well which is strange (I thought so, but had it confirmed by Adidas footscan technology yesterday).

But it matters not, I wear the shoe that suits (cushioned) and despite training hard for my 3rd marathon, I rarely get injured and am hitting a few PB's every month.

So as my example proves, don't worry, as long as you're not injured and wearing the correct footwear, relax, don't worry, and enjoy! Happy running!
Posted: 19/03/2007 at 10:41

I used to be a heel striker - but changed to running on my forefoot - I'd swear blind it makes me quiker.

During the switch over i had sore calf muscles but once i got used it i was fine ........as RIBS says get shoes with full lenght Cushion ......

I think the trick is to take the change over very gradually or you will injure yourself

Cheers

Dave
Posted: 19/03/2007 at 11:59

I am a natural midfoot striker, have quite high arches and wear cushioned shoes to train in and lighter ones to race in. I don't suffer from injuries often. I think you can change things about your running style that may help you, but if you're not injured then think about what suits you and running naturally. None of us are perfect.

Having said that I have been following some of the techniques in Danny Dreyers' "Chi Running" and they work. By having better "form" you have to fight your body less and you flow better, getting more out of less mileage.
Posted: 19/03/2007 at 12:00

I used to heel strike and was very injury prone. Last year I started working on changing to a mid-foot strike using the Chi-running book. Has it improved my running? Well, I'm far less prone to injuries now and I'm running in lighter shoes with less support. My running seems to flow better and I'm working with my body rather than against it. It's still a work in progress but the way the book is written it allows you to gradually change over time, rather than expecting a sudden change.
Posted: 19/03/2007 at 23:20

I'd say its rarely 'easy' to change your style , but its definately possible.

Is it worth the (substantial) time and effort? Well that depends on how dissatisfied you are with your present technique. If you have persistent injury problems, or are unable to run fast despite expending lots of energy (and these things bother you), then it probably is.







Posted: 20/03/2007 at 10:22

I tried switching from mid-foot to forefoot just out of curiosty and the pain in my calves was unbelieveable - I could hardly walk down the stairs so now i'm back to my old style, inury free and happy ! Tread with caution.
Posted: 20/03/2007 at 12:18

The main thing to bear in mind is that you are going to have to reduce your milage considerably while you make the transition or you will almost certainly get injured. This may take quite a bit of patience. If, as I assume you are talking about changing from heel striking to forefoot striking, then It will help if you do some strength training for your calves and ankles. You will be using muscles in an unfamiliar way.

Also, do a bit of research into running form and look at the way runners with good form run - this could be one genuine benefit of youtube! Sebastion Coe, El Guerrouj etc. (just a couple of examples off the top of my head – you could probably find lots of others)

Is it worth it? It was for me, but it certainly wasn’t easy


Posted: 20/03/2007 at 12:56

I would agree with Alex S. Having gone through a really annoying phase of shinsplints that I just couldn't shake, I got some physio input. They gradually reengineered my running style over time. It was a ground-up (well, hip-down actually) re-think about each muscle group and its role in the cycle of movement. A lot of subtle tweaks were made over a period of 3 months, pretty much working on it every day. And yes, that was every bit as dull as it sounds. Result though? Injury evaporated (primary objective achieved) but also my footfalls are very quiet now. Less noise means not only less shock to the tissue of the lower legs, but also less energy used for a given distance. Less energy used means more in the tank and thus more speed. I am definitely quicker now for a given amount of perceived effort. It sounds like I am recommending a 'yes' but as Alex S says above, it depends on your personal situation. Get some serious biomechanical expert input on it though (or at least a 2nd opinion from someone who has seen you run) before embarking on a change regime; your style might be fine already!
Further word of warning: if you are trained to a reasonable level (and it sounds like you are, given that you've got a coach) you will find it incredibly frustrating bringing your speed and distances down to a "beginner" level when you get started on the 'new style'. If you go for a 'normal' distance/speed run using a newly modified gait you are practically guaranteed to hurt something! Gently does it.
Posted: 20/03/2007 at 13:01

When changing from Heel strike to forefoot i didn't change my total weekly miles ...i just gradually increased the miles on my toes and gradually decreased the "heel" miles ...whole process took about 10 weeks - yes i had calf pain and the morning walk down the stairs took a while longer than normal - but it felt great running at my new race pace
Posted: 20/03/2007 at 14:46

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